“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu
Everybody is gone or going.
Not literally everybody, of course. But it feels that way. For me, 2012 and 2013 represent a high water mark of connectedness. In 2012, my family of Clemson friends was very intact and a good thing, too, because that’s when I needed them the most. So many people were there for me. One of the friends I relied on most heavily, Dinger, left for New Hampshire in 2013. Another one of those friends, Brenden, is about to move to Denver. His wife, Kate, instantly became one of my favorite people. My traveling compadres Alrinthea and Lisa, moved to Greenville and Chattanooga, respectively. Odd though it may seem to those on the outside, my frequent breakfast buddy Evan is on to new adventures, too. Sean went to Charlotte. The list goes on.
In 2013, I met a whole new crew of friends, the comedians. On the plus side, I enjoyed them thoroughly while they were here, but they’ve fled, too. Justin Thompson, Camilo Potes, Nick Shaheen, and Charlie Grey. All taken by Atlanta, as though it were a giant monster in the night, stealing away with the comedy children I’d come to love so much. When I learned Charlie was moving to Atlanta, I mourned the loss of him. Not just because I will miss Charlie, but because I will miss the era that is now ending. It was sad to lose Justin, Camilo, and Nick. I miss them all. But the loss of Charlie feels like a tipping point.
Of course, I haven’t lost any of these people for good. Even if they’re no longer in my town doesn’t mean they’re no longer my friend. I still see all of these people, some of them pretty regularly. But it is not the same. Dr. Seuss says, “Don’t be sad that it’s over, smile because it happened.” I am struggling to follow Dr. Seuss’s advice. For a long time, I was eager for change. I wanted a new job, a new life. And then I got that new life. And I liked it a lot. Loved it, in fact. And suddenly, I am not so eager for change. Change is a lot harder when you’re letting go of something that was good.
For a lot of people reading this blog, this next part may sound strange, because it’s not about a person – it’s about a horse. In October, I met a black Thoroughbred gelding I dubbed Johnny. I’ve ridden horses my entire life. I started showing at age three. I’ve been fortunate enough to work at some elite level barns, took care of and rode horses who had been short-listed for the Olympics. I’ve owned and ridden some great horses, but Johnny was my favorite. He is an exceedingly special horse. He was exceedingly special to me. When I met him, he was for sale and he eventually sold to someone else. He sold to someone else because I failed to sell the books I’d spent months working on. They may yet sell somewhere else, but the influx of money I was hoping to receive is not coming anytime soon. The failure of those books to sell was a significant disappointment. This might sound odd, but my main sense of loss is tied up in losing out on Johnny.
In early January, I learned Mama Cat, my oldest pet, has cancer. She’s still hanging in there. She has very suddenly gone deaf and she gave up bathing herself, but her appetite is still good. Even so, I know the end that is inevitable for us all is much closer for her than it is for most. Mama Cat entered my life in 1999, when I was still in college. She was feral. Evan and I trapped her because we saw she was pregnant. She really domesticated quite nicely and she wound up having Little Bastard. She is a sweet, patient, tolerant cat. She is also symbolic of another era.
When I went out to Charleston to write, I did exactly that. It was a very productive trip in a lot of ways. Coming back has been hard. I instantly realized I needed to get out of this house that I’ve lived in for ten years now. Hindsight is 20/2o and I find myself looking back over some of my decisions of the last two years and thinking perhaps I made some mistakes. Evan and I engaged in what was essentially a slow motion divorce. Some aspects of that method were definitely beneficial, working out logistics on the other side of emotion is a good idea. But on the flip side, I still have an attic full of memorabilia that needs to be gone through. I see now the benefit of ripping the band-aid off and taking care of everything quickly, of getting it done and over with. In the slow motion divorce, you deal with it again and again. And again. And again.
It’s not that I wish I was still married. Truth is, every time Evan and I see each other it becomes increasingly bizarre to us we were ever married in the first place. The nice thing is we can laugh about it. When we were married, there were so many things left unsaid, so many personality traits stifled. Now that we are free to be wholly ourselves around one another, it’s kind like, “How did that happen?” I’d like to think we’re both pretty decent people, and as such we make pretty decent friends. In this, I am incredibly fortunate. And yet, despite all of this intellectual knowledge, this peaceable resolution, divorce still sucks. It is painful. The feeling of rejection runs deep. Believe it or not, this segues back to the horse. Johnny, it seemed to me, liked me. I get that there are a lot of people who like me, who even love me. But as I said before, Johnny was special. I have trust issues, and there were so many times that that horse, had he been a normal Thoroughbred, would have behaved badly. Instead, he was good and brave, which made me good and brave. It’s not supposed to go that way, you know. The rider is supposed to create confidence in the horse, not the other way around. In the end, everything that the rejection of divorce does, working with Johnny did the opposite of that. And all of a sudden I find myself surrounded by artifacts of that rejection, including this house. So now, I too am going. Not far away, but I am going.
Everybody is going or gone.
There have been times in this process where I handled things really well, where I was strong and felt the living peace of faith. Now is not one of those times. This has been a time of mourning, weeping, throwing things away, it has been a time to die, to tear down, to give up. I don’t like it and I don’t want it. I hate feeling weak. It is my least favorite feeling in the world. It brings out all the worst in me. But this is where I am, whether I like it or not. And change is coming, it is almost here. I know there will be times of planting, building, laughing, dancing. A time of rebirth. There is a season for every activity under Heaven.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV)
Yesterday was a bummer, man. On Friday, I’d gone to a comedy show. I’d invited a lot of friends to this show, coordinated a lot of efforts, entertained a lot of people while there. I love this sort of stuff and I am good at it. But it takes a good bit out of me. On Saturday, I was tired. It isn’t often that I feel this way, but what I wanted on Saturday was somebody to take care of me. Somebody I know well, somebody I am wholly comfortable with, somebody to make me food. But that wasn’t going to happen, so, I debated between staying in and watching movies, or going out. I decided to choose hope, and went out to the turn the day around. Hope looked back at me and said, “Nope. Not gonna happen.”
It would have been easier to turn an aircraft carrier around than my day. But this is life, my friends, not every day is going to be a winner. I am grateful that most of my days are pretty awesome. That said, yesterday I found myself going to Publix at 7:30pm to pick up two avocados, toothpaste, and a bottle of wine.
A few months ago, a video of a woman getting catcalled in NYC made big news. One of the things that struck me about the video was the woman’s posture. She was sort of curled up into herself. I felt her fear, her tentativeness, watching the video. Personally, I never get catcalled. It just doesn’t happen. And I’ll walk around New York for ten hours, through all kinds of neighborhoods. I generally go out into the world in one of two modes – totally shut down ice cold don’t-talk-to-me and completely game to make friends. I feel like I have control, the ability to click back and forth between these ways of being, depending on where my head’s at. In either mode, I do not perceive men as a threat in general. Sometimes my gut pops up to say “stay away” and I always listen to it, but fear just isn’t a part of my day-to-day life experience.
So there I was yesterday, feeling like a sad little monkey, in the nice Publix shopping center in West Ashley. Before getting my groceries I wanted to grab something from a side store. I walked past a man sitting on a bench. He asked me if I had a smoke, I said no and kept walking, but he didn’t stop talking. Instantly, I was disconcerted. On the way back to the Publix, to get my avocados, toothpaste and bottle of wine, I had to walk past him again. This time he got up from the bench, invaded my personal space, and followed me up to the door. I wanted to verbally confront him, but that guy picked me for a reason – I was already feeling defeated. I had no fight in me.
I said nothing, walked into Publix, instantly grabbed the store manager (who happened to be right there), and told him to kick the guy off the property. Which he did. I had no fight in me, but I certainly had the intellectual capacity to delegate that fight to somebody else.
I got my stuff, checked out and left. When I got to the parking lot, there was now an old black van with electric green stripes parked next to the driver’s side of my car. The man was sitting in the passenger side of the van, his hands and face pressed up against the window. He was laughing at me. If I could murder someone with a look, he would have been dead a thousand times before I drove away. As I left, he waved goodbye. Whoever was driving the van left at the same time I did, but they didn’t follow me.
In the movie Copycat, which I saw because it was about serial killers and had Sigourney Weaver in it, there’s this great line where Weaver says, “Don’t park next to vans.” In the movie, she’s a world famous expert on serial killers and famous author on the subject. She’s walking down a hallway, signing autographs on the move, and that’s what she says to a woman who asks for her autograph: “Don’t park next to vans.” Delivered as if she was saying, “Take care of yourself.” I thought about that as I drove away. Specifically, “What if the van parks next to you?” It’s like the zen koan of dealing with predators.
In conclusion, sometimes days and people are bad, but in the end, it’ll be fine. (That’s my paraphrase of Romans 5:2.)
St. Patrick’s Day, 2014. I was talking to Nick Shaheen on my front porch. I can’t remember what I was talking about, but I remember giving a lot of time-related mile markers. “That happened in October of 2005,” or whatever. Shaheen said, “Wow, you’re really obsessed with dates.”
Up until he told me that, I had no clue this was true. In fact, I thought the opposite. I have no memory for anniversaries. Actual dates don’t stick with me, just months or seasons. But recording the specific day isn’t necessary to be really obsessed with dates. And the thing is, numbers don’t mean much. Certainly not to me, who can’t do simple math, but also in terms of the calendar year. Just because you turn the page doesn’t mean things are going to change.
And yet, I find myself looking forward to 2015 like a dog watching her owner open a new can of tennis balls.
2014 has lasted roughly four regular years. I was trying to think back to my first visit to Simon & Schuster. Turns out – December of 2013. WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED. You guys, that’s a year ago. It feels like four. In a way, a lot has happened in 2014. There’s been a lot of comedy and a lot of writing and even a good bit of production. I went to Los Angeles and New York, got to spend time with old friends and make new ones. I found Crossfit (need to refind it, you guys. Anybody know where it went? hahahahaha) and I started riding horses again, which has been awesome. But it’s been a year of waiting. Waiting on my divorce to be final. Waiting for Ruthless to come out. Waiting on collaborators. Waiting on myself to get new writing done.
2014 has been the Year of the Wait.
Yesterday, Evan and I did divorce paperwork stuff. (Quick plot cul-de-sac – we went to the notary for literary the 6th time and – once again – she didn’t know who we were. What is that? This isn’t over a long span of time, just two or three months. What’s up with this woman’s memory? Does she live in a perpetual state of Groundhog’s Day? Okay, sorry, plot dul-de-sac over.) ANYWAY – Evan and I grabbed lunch and, as is often the case, he was sort of taking a long time to wrap things up and I heard the little microwave *DING* that goes off in my head when I’m ready to move on. Evan could see it in my eyes. I said, “I get impatient. I like for the things to be doing.”
I like for the things to be doing.
You guys. In case any of you missed it, I’m a professional writer now. A master of the English language. And I like for the things to be doing. I really do, too. I like roller coasters. Not merry-go-rounds. 2014 has been long and sloggy and against my nature.
More importantly, 2014 has been a year of intense hardship for a lot of my best friends. While a lot of my waiting has been for joyful things like my book to come out, others have been waiting on things like test results. Others have waited for the worst part of grief to pass. I’ve been witness to a lot of suffering this year. There’s an inherent waiting involved in that experience, too. We say, “this too shall pass” for a reason. We are waiting for a brighter day. In a sense, we never stop waiting, because we don’t arrive at our destination until the day we die.
But there are years where you sell your first book and go to New York City for the first time and go back to Los Angeles and reunite with friends you haven’t seen in more than ten years and learn how to just float in a lake and have fun and take up stand-up comedy and finally find your tribe and none of it feels like waiting, because instead you’re wholly in the present, because the present is alive with the new. Of course, every year can’t be 2013. Sometimes, instead, your year is 2014 and all you can do is wait.
Here’s what might be the final installment of my series on marriage advice. I may add more, especially because I’m fixin’ to make a mess right here. It’s going to be a mess because I am about to say a couple of contradictory things.
Here’s the first thing.
Don’t give up.
If your marriage is going through a rough time, do not give up on it. Give it absolutely everything you have. Be willing to change your mind. Be willing to give it all your energy. Be willing to lay your body down to save it.
I’ve received a lot of letters about this blog series from friends and family who have been in the marital trenches. Both from people who have gotten a divorce and from those who managed to not only save their marriage, but find themselves in a better relationship with their spouse than ever before. Obviously, I cannot speak from experience, but hearing from those who were successful in saving their marriages was incredibly gratifying – proof positive that rebirth and redemption are possible. To paraphrase, that marriage is a good thing and worth fighting for.
A friend shared a quote with me:
“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”
– Madeleine L’Engle
Through grace, our failures can be redeemed.
If this isn’t a concept you’re familiar with, or one you buy into, I’d recommend contemplating it, researching it, coming to understand it. I can think of few truths less important than that one.
So to sum up point one – don’t give up. Fight with everything you have. Surrender yourself entirely to the endeavor. Hold nothing back. Your marriage is worth it.
Now for point two.
It is not the end of the world if you fail to save your marriage. You will continue. God will not love you any less because you failed. The people in your life who love you will not love you any less because you failed. And if you’re smart, you will not love yourself any less because you failed.
You will quickly learn that there is something worse than divorce. Namely, enduring a loveless marriage. If you’re smart, you will allow yourself to let go of all the things that are no longer your problem. Letting problems sail off into the wild blue yonder is pretty amazing, you guys. You’re going to go through a lot of hardship, getting divorced. You should take full advantage of every possible upside headed your way – and not feel badly about it. I’m guessing your sense of self-worth has probably been damaged. Here’s your chance to reclaim it. Moreover, this is your chance to become who you really are, unhindered by the 1,000 lbs. suit that is a dead marriage.
Here’s the thing – sometimes marriages die. Sometimes they’re dead on arrival. Sometimes it takes awhile. Either way, it’s better to take off the 1,000 lbs. suit than to carry it for the rest of your life.
The above reflects my experience. Divorce can go down in a lot of different ways. One of those ways being engulfed in a massive amount of regret. I believe a marriage that has even a flicker of life left in it cannot be abandoned in good conscience. Because I fought as hard as I did, for as long as I did, as fully as I did, I am not plagued by regret. For that, I am thankful.
(Now, here comes a part that might be weird for you guys to read. I am going to give Evan some compliments. Don’t freak out, you guys. It’s going to be okay. Some of you may not like it, but I promise you, there is nothing self-loathing about this.)
I am also thankful that Evan took off the 1,000 lbs. suit. In doing so, he released me from the same. Truth is, I would never have stopped fighting. It’s just not in me. Especially given public perception of us as a couple, there was a price to be paid for being the bad guy. Moreover, in making that decision, he took charge of his own life and began a new relationship with honesty. In the end, if he could not find a way to love me, the most loving thing he could do was to set me free. Ultimately, successful relationships must be built on a bedrock of truth and honesty. Which is why Evan and I get along sooooooo much better now than we ever did in the past. Isn’t it ironic. Don’t ya think.
(One more time: If your marriage is going through a rough time, do not give up on it. Give it absolutely everything you have. Be willing to change your mind. Be willing to give it all your energy. Be willing to lay your body down to save it. Marriage is a good thing and worth fighting for.)